Grief is a feeling most often associated with the death of a loved one. It is a complex emotion that is often described as the suffering we encounter when someone we love is taken away from us. When someone we love passes, we have the closure of knowing that this person is not able to return and we are left with no choice but to move forward with our lives. This relationship is sure to remain in the past.
How, then, do we handle the loss of a relationship where the person we used love still exists in our world?
There’s no telling when we might be struck with painful reminders of the past. These memories we hold of a particular relationship can hinder our ability to “move on.” We can try to avoid certain places – neighborhoods, cafés, restaurants – in an effort to keep ourselves safe from these emotional disruptions. But there may also be times when we are simply going about our day, and suddenly we’re blasted with a wave of overwhelming sadness. These moments are the most difficult to overcome, because they usually catch us off guard.
Social media has made it more challenging to come back from severed relationships. It’s tempting (and easy) to check up on our exes through various online platforms…even if we know deep down that keeping tabs on them will only bring us more pain. Perhaps a sliver of your heart remains hopeful that you two will reunite one day. This hope keeps you invested in your past partner’s life, wishful that they are just as devastated as you are with their newfound loneliness. But this fragile hope can shatter with a single picture or post that suggests they have moved on. Then, we feel abandoned in our suffering. Not only have we lost the comfort of the relationship, but we have also broken the illusion that we are in good company throughout our process of grieving.
If there was a simple cure for this type of loss, we would all be quick to take advantage of it to avoid the gut-wrenching pain that comes with the end of a partnership. Since there is no easy fix for what might feel like an untreatable wound, the only way to overcome it seems to be with time. This is a dissatisfying answer though.
How much time? For how long will be left in this suffering? When will I finally be free from the ghost of who my partner used to be?
Although these are all great questions, the truth is that there are no definite answers. The grieving stage depends on the length of the relationship, the events that took place during this time, and your circumstances now that you are no longer together. It is often said that it takes twice as long as the duration of a relationship to “get over” someone you loved. However, this is not an exact science and there are certainly exceptions.
In times like these, it is common to feel powerless to the immense sadness that clouds over your daily life. Like a parasite, grief seems to inhabit our minds and takes control of whatever motivation we have left to begin again. Please know that you are not the first person to experience this pain, nor will you be the last. Though it might not have happened yet, everyone faces the loss of a friend or partner at some point in their lives, and nothing about how you feel is out of the ordinary. There are ways to control, or at the very least reconcile with these negative emotions. You do not have to succumb to despair when grieving the loss of a relationship.
In fact, there are a few strategies known to help make moving on easier, empowering, and even enjoyable:
1. Accept the reality: Breakups are incredibly confusing and might come unexpectedly, without warning or explanation. Holding onto the idea that you and your ex-partner might get back together one day might feel comforting at first. But there is no way of anticipating what the future holds, and prolonging your attachment to the relationship will only make you feel worse in your current situation. It is important that you accept the truth: that the relationship is over and that you are unable to be together, no matter how deep you feel for this person. Coming to terms with this fact will save you so much emotional energy, while also helping you move forward in your healing process.
2. Don’t search for explanations: One-sided breakups are particularly difficult, especially if you feel caught-off-guard by someone else’s decision to end things. You are probably wondering what factors lead up to it and simply can’t understand what went wrong. Unfortunately, finding closure in this scenario is usually unattainable, since ties likely have already been cut. Rather than probing your memory for answers or blaming yourself for what happened, it is important to be gentle with yourself throughout this process. You are not unlovable, and you are able to maintain a meaningful relationship. Know that someday you will find someone who deserves to share and reciprocate all the love that you have to offer, and until that day comes, speak kindly to yourself.
3. Get rid of reminders: It is human nature to seek comfort in material things, especially those that remind us of times when life felt good. During the process of moving on, you might feel inclined to save photos or gifts that your ex-partner gave you. But it is necessary that you rid your space of all things representative of a past relationship, otherwise that person will constantly be on your mind. By getting rid of these items, you can make space for new ones that fill you with gratitude for the abundance of new experiences you begin to experience.
4. Reach out to your supports: There is no better way to overcome the pain of a breakup than by talking it through with people who love you. Reach out to friends, family, and/or mental health professionals for support. When we find ourselves feeling lonely and upset, it can be difficult to muster the energy to be in the presence of others. However, isolating yourself leaves you with too much idle time on your hands to overthink. Start out small and give your friend a call just to let them know that you are hurting and may need their support.
5. Take a social media vacation: Both a blessing and a curse, social media makes it incredibly easy to find out what other people are up to. In hopes of making a breakup easier on yourself, you might consider taking some time away from these apps. Checking in on your ex’s profile can quickly become a compulsive and unbreakable habit. You might stumble across information that makes you feel worse in your stage of grieving. Deleting these apps from your phone for a while will help curb the temptation to investigate your ex’s activities. Disconnecting in general, can bring a lot of peace to your life.
6. Put yourself out there: Step outside of your comfort zone – learn a new skill, attend group workshops, or travel to a foreign country. Now is the time to do it! Take advantage of your sudden freedom and invest time in activities that you would have normally pushed aside. Putting yourself in social environments is a great way to make friends, form new relationships, and keep yourself busy with exciting experiences. We know it can feel intimidating at first, but it’s so worth it.
7. Maintain your health: There has been a lot of talk on social media about “revenge bodies” or post-breakup “glow-ups.” These are external changes, sometimes drastic ones that people make in an effort to heal their internal wounds. These alterations are ineffective in the long-run, because they fail to address the psychological root of our negative emotions. So, please, don’t buy into these trivial solutions. Instead, nourish yourself and take care of your body, because maintaining your physical health will benefit your mental health. And, remember that your relationship took place while you were in your current body. Your appearance plays no part in your ability to be loved, so don’t waste your time trying to change it.
8. Learn how to date yourself: This probably sounded really strange at first, but once you understand the value of dating yourself, your entire outlook on being single will be forever changed. For some reason, as we age, we begin categorizing activities as being exclusively for people in relationships, or “couple stuff.” Going to the movies, eating out at restaurants, ice skating, having picnics, and weekends away – are now activities reserved for two people. This stigma about doing things on your own completely limit our ability to appreciate our own company. By going solo or inviting a friend to participate in activities that you used to reserve for your partner, you will effectively minimize your “need” to be in a romantic relationship. Of course, there are emotional aspects of dating that cannot be reproduced on your own, but it is well worth challenging those that can to prove to ourselves that we don’t need to rely on another person to try new things.
Mourning a relationship is something that you have to go through in order to heal. Burying your feelings and stifling the process is not a healthy choice if your goal is to move on in a healthy way. Once you’re over some of the shock and pain from the initial stages of a breakup, take the time you need to recover – we’re all different so go at your own pace.